Friday, 27 February 2009

Watchmen: It's the hope I can't stand

Along with The Prisoner, Watchmen is one of the major stones in my, erm, cultural Stonehenge.

I picked up issue one at the Odyssey Seven comic shop in Manchester in the summer of 1986. As universally recognisable as it is now, I stared at the cover for hours before I had chance to read it, wondering what the hell it was.

By the time I rushed to get issue 12 a year later (badly hungover after making a tit of myself stage-invading a concert at Chorley Town Hall), I'd moved from small-town Lancashire to London and completed my first year at university (with everything that involved), and my mum had got cancer. So it goes.

Since then I've read and studied the series many times. However, I've always had my doubts about a film adaptation (I still can't bring myself to watch V for Vendetta – IMHO, a better comic than Watchmen – after hearing about some of the changes that were made).

Then I saw the first Watchmen trailer, and had a real jolt of hope. The characters, look and main story elements of the book seemed to be intact, and everyone involved in the film seemed to be tripping over themselves to prove how faithful to the original they were being.

But thinking about it a bit more, I started to wonder if that might be more of a negative than a positive. What made Watchmen so astonishing when it was first published, apart from the depth of the story, was how it pushed the comic format more than anything that preceded it; people aren't exagerrating when they call it 'the Citizen Kane of comics'.

As a result, there's a lot of stuff in there that's impossible to translate to another medium, such as the rhythmic and visual effects created within the nine-panel page layout, and the way Jon/Dr Manhattan experiences past, present and future simultaneously while on Mars. Even the typographical depiction of Rorschach's voice leaves it open for the reader to create their own interpretation.

Elsewhere, the Fearful Symmetry issue/chapter is structured like a Rorschach blot; work outwards from the central spread, and you'll find that each page corresponds to its counterpart on the other side in terms of story, characters, imagery etc - a narrative conceit that could only work in a comic.

So, while I'm excited that one of my favourite works in any medium is getting a classy big-screen treatment, I'm worried that there's no way the film can be as far ahead of its peers in 2009 as the comic was in 1986. I've a feeling that viewers outside the book's core fans might find themselves a bit disappointed after all the hoo-haa.

What do you think?

youdothatvoodoo: On whether to watch Watchmen
The Lower Frequencies: Who watches the Watchmen? Me
Daily Telegraph: Watchmen: Behind the mask

Sunday, 22 February 2009

I live!

Well, that was a week that turned into a fortnight. We were having our bedroom decorated while we were in Whitstable, but the decorator found a major problem with damp, so we had to have some building work done and headed off back to Jane's dad's for a few days.

The writing went well in Whitstable, although not quite as expected. I'd been planning to get some work done on Care and Control, the drama series I'm developing with a social worker friend.

However, she's in the middle of cancer treatment and hadn't been able to give the latest draft another pass, so instead I got stuck into Foot Soldiers, a feature-length script that I'd lost a lot of momentum on.

And it went really well – I got from page 14 to page 46 over the week, including some character-defining and thematic stuff that I'd been very apprehensive about tackling earlier.

I had a rough eight-part structure for the script, based on broad story strokes and emotional cues, but had previously found it difficult to convert that into narrative. However, removing a lot of distractions and just getting on with it soon got me into 'the zone'.

That's one of the things I love about writing; when you start to surprise yourself with the material you're coming up with, and sense that the story is developing a real life of its own in terms of tone, imagery, rhythm etc.

Anyway, hopefully I'll get back to posting a bit more regularly now. There are quite a few new things appearing on the box, plus I've been going to quite a bit of theatre and stuff at the BFI, so I'll try and get my critical eye back in again.

In other news - I've got a glowing referral letter from my MA course leader, so I'm going to dip my toes in the chilly water of agent-hunting in the next couple of weeks (once I've done a few final tweaks on my major project).

And it's getting brighter in the evenings! Hurrah!

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Getting away from it all

I'm off to Whitstable for a week to attach jump leads to the nipples of my current writing projects.

See you soon!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Ladies of Letters, ITV3

Ladies of Letters, a new 10-part comedy series starting tonight on ITV3, isn't exactly cutting edge, but it's got a dry wit behind it and is worth at least a quick look because of its interesting narrative strategy.

Adapted from a series of books and a Radio 4 series by Carole Hayman and Lou Wakefield, it stars Anne Reid and Maureen Lipman as a couple of middle-aged ladies who meet at a wedding and begin a correspondence (initially through a case of mistaken identity).

Each alone in their own home, the ladies narrate their letters as either a voice-over or directly to the camera, allowing for ironic discrepancies between what they're 'writing' and what's actually going on.

While the whole thing might initially appear a bit cosy and Victoria Wood-lite, the letters are expertly crafted bombs of competition and passive aggression, although there's also a darker theme of middle-aged solitude lurking behind it all.

Ten episodes might prove a bit much, but as a screenwriter it's probably worth at least half an hour of your life to provoke a few thoughts on how you can play images and voice-over against each other.

Brief interview with the writers
Official LoL website

Monday, 2 February 2009

Whitechapel, ITV1

Jane got a preview disc of this last week; I really enjoyed it, though I think there's a danger it could end up as a case of style over substance.

Whitechapel is a three-part thriller set in the contemporary East End. The set-up is pretty simple; modern career copper DI Joseph Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) is sent to head up a CID department led on the ground by grizzled veteran Ray Miles (Phil Davis).

It is a token placement for Chandler, who is being fast-tracked towards the upper echelons of the Met. However, his arrival coincides with the grotesque murder of a woman.

The reactions of Miles and Chandler highlight their differing backgrounds; while Chandler finds it hard to deal with the brutality of what happened, Miles has seen it all before and gets stuck into the investigation, using his experience and local knowledge.

However, the case become more complicated when Ripperologist Edward Buchan (Steve Pemberton) points out similarities between the current murder and the first crime of Jack the Ripper.

The sceptical Miles is quick to dismiss the eccentric as a fruitcake, but Chandler - handling his first murder case - becomes convinced that there might be something in Buchan's claim, and attempts to use the potential pattern to predict when the killer might strike again.

There's nothing very original here, but it's done with quite a bit of brio and full-blooded performances from the three leads. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the presence of director SJ Clarkson, the dynamics of the police department are reminiscent of Life on Mars, with the shiny modern detective trying to impose his ways on a reluctant but instinctive and tenacious old sweat.

It's very stylishly shot, highlighting the creepy dual atmosphere of the East End, where Victorian alleys and courtyards still exist in the shadow of the City's gleaming office buildings. Like Life on Mars, it's got a very clear visual identity, and - by the end of the first episode, anyway - still hints uneasily at the presence of the supernatural.

However, the thing I found a bit irksome is the continued need for almost every serial killer to work to a detectable pattern. It was the same at the end of Apparitions - for some reason, it was necessary for the demonic bad guy to assassinate the pope at exactly the same time of day that someone else tried to shoot Pope John Paul in 1981.

It might give the detectives the opportunity to show their mental chops, but it seems like the policier equivalent of the Bond villain explaining his plan for world domination to the captured hero before going off and leaving one of his less-capable minions to deliver the coup de grace.

Anyway, this is engaging stuff that spruces up an old format without throwing out the baby with the bathwater - although I hope it manages to deviate from a dot-to-dot rehash of the 1888 murders.

Press pack
Official site (with interviews, trailers etc)